The most common foot odor is caused by wearing shoes, but not just by wearing shoes. The shoes being worn have a lot to do with it, especially shoes that don’t allow the feet to breathe. That’s not always case, of course, because people who wear sandals and flip-flops can also have stinky feet.
That same odor can also be caused by bacteria or fungus in the skin of the feet, usually concentrated between the toes, even though perspiration is usually at the root of the problem. I speak from experience because I’ve had some really odoriferous feet in the past.
Preventing foot odor is far easier than eliminating it. Foot odor is usually caused by wearing shoes that don’t breathe for far too long a time. The best way to treat your feet in this situation is to wash your feet and change your socks at least once a day. More than once is better, but most people don’t have the time to do it more than once.
Shoes made with vinyl or patent leather are almost waterproof, which means they’re also nearly air-proof. The perspiration from your feet stays trapped inside your shoes while you’re wearing them, keeping your feet, your socks and the insides of the shoes moist (or even wet). If you can avoid wearing these types of shoes, your feet will thank you.
When I was in the military, I hated wearing dress uniforms because I hated the types of shoes I had to wear with them. Those dress shoes caused both me and my wife, Josie, to treat my feet with extreme care. She used to complain that my feet smelled like dried fish, which made her hungry. At first, I didn’t know whether to take it as an insult or a complement.
Foot powder will help cut the odor and absorb some moisture, but not all of it. It works better in shoes that breathe than other types of shoes. I use it while wearing athletic shoes (which is what I wear most of the time). I put it on my feet before I put on my socks and I sprinkle a liberal amount in my shoes. Josie hasn’t complained more than a couple of times since I retired (1998).
One technique I’ve read about helps to reduce foot odor by causing your feet to perspire less. Stinky feet usually start as sweaty feet (where bacteria thrive), even while wearing flip-flops. I’ve never tried the black tea remedy, but you can read “Home Remedy for Sweaty Feet” if you feel like trying it out.
Way back in the late 1980s, Josie “forced” me to soak my feet in alum (tawas in Tagalog) and water for a week to kill the bacteria causing my foot odor. She couldn’t stand the smell when I first came home from work. Even though I’ve had issues with foot odor a couple of times since then, it’s never been that bad. There are very few times when I need to wear shoes more than a couple of hours at a time.
If you have a minor odor problem, charcoal inserts may be enough to take care of it. There are thousands of foot care products being sold over the counter and very few of them, other than the inserts, are worth using.
These days, I scrub my feet every time I’m in the shower. I use Scotch-Brite scrubbing sponges on the bottoms of my feet and occasionally on the top of my toes. I also dig out all the crud under my toenails when I cut them. As long as I maintain my routine, no one has to spell anything stinky coming from me.
Originally published in April 2014. Updated to add “Scotch-Brite” scrubbing sponges.